Mastery Practice: How To Learn New Skills (Part 2 of 4)

“If you don’t practice, you can fall down, but you surely can’t ski.” — Murray Johannsen

Legacee’s Skill Development Model

You can practice wrong. To shorten the time needed and the amount of practice required by keeping in mind two core elements of skillful practice: feedback and motivation. 

By Murray Johannsen, May 8, 2016.  Comments? Feel free to connect with the author via this website, Linkedin profile,  or by  email.

1. Theory Basics

2. The Role of Timing in Practice

3. The Three Levels of Mastery

4. The Mastery Practices

5. References and Resources



The Role of Timing In Skilled Practice

Learning by massed practice is very inefficient. By this I mean practicing for a long-time instead more numerous shorter practices. For example, Bray (1948) studied individuals in the military who were learning Morse code. He found that individuals with 7 hours of practice learned it equally well as those with 4 hours of practice. In other words, people were putting in three extra hours a day of useless practice. Gay (1973) reported similar effects for cognitive skills such as learning the rules of algebra. 

Practicing one-hour every day over eight days will produce a higher level of skill than eight-hours of practice in a single day. This means that skill building sessions to improve a certain skill would best be taught in short bursts over weeks rather than as two-day intensives.

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Skill-based learning requires a different process from that used in corporate training or university classes. Essentially, one must learn practical theory that one then applies in the real world. It’s this combination of skill development through practice and feedback that allows one to achieve mastery.

But you must practice in a correct manner or you see few gains for the effort. One must not only practice physically, but mentally to get the most from your effort. But unless you happen to be an athlete, you never learned the secrets associated with efficient practice.

The Three Levels of Mastery Practice


Level I: Expertise

This is the level of understanding and knowledge. It means further developing your ability to memorize and recall. In this case, it is the skill sets one would want to develop a better set of tools to know and understand. One would think that in the information age, we would be good at memorizing and recalling information, but we are not.

Find out the details on mastering expertise

Level 2: Learning Skills

These are incorporated into the methods of masters program. You don’t be JUST a theory wonk — do something with the knowledge you have — use these mastery practices to accelerate the building of  skills you can use in the real world. This level of mastery is typically neglected since it requires practice and different development approaches.

Tragically, the skill development models used in corporations and government are deeply flawed. It’s no wonder executives don’t want to spend money on training. And it’s why you would want to use an Academy Model.  

Find out more about mastering skills

Level 3: The Master Teacher

Just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you can teach it. Once you know something really well, help others to develop what you know and can do.

Find out more the Master Teacher

What Are the Mastery Practices?

It has long been known that mental practice will enhance the ability to perform physically (Schmidt and Lee, N.D). Mental rehearsal has long be a used in sports psychology (Bergland, 2014). This is the case for motor skills and is likely to be true with pure mental skills such as listening.

Each of them are useful in the applications beside skill development. In combination, they offer a valuable set of options to enhance skills in general. 

The Mastery Practices — Overview

These are the mental methods allowing you to more quickly reach skill mastery when learning other application skills. At a glance, the five practice to learn are:


The importance of meditation as a Mastery Practice cannot be overestimated. It is one of the best tools we know to be able to change the internal “software” running in the mind. It is relatively easy to learn — most induction practices take around 30 minutes — but people spend an entire lifetime mastering how to use this special state of mind.


It’s been the observation of many, that people don’t learn anything – well not very much — from experience. Those who master reflection won’t make the same mistake twice, and you can even learn from other people’s mistakes. It serves as a tool for insight on what to do or change.


If you ask the average person if they talk to themselves, they would probably respond with, “Are you nuts?” But here’s the thing. Your self-talk serves as the basis for your mental programming. Your positive or negative sets the stage for how you going to act in the future and in the present. Controlling thought serves as the foundation for all great success.


The great entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists will tell you that all great works start first in one’s imagination. It’s one of the major practical tools needed to master skills. If you can’t visualize what you want, it’s unlikely that you will get it. Mental imagery is a mental muscle waiting to be exercised.

Mindfulness (As an Elective)

Mindfulness as a developmental process has been around for at least 2500 years. It has long been an integral part of Buddhist practices, practices that are now appearing more often in the West (Jayaram, 2008). In fact, Western psychology has taken a great deal of interest in mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention to deal with problems such as stress (Kabat-Zinn, 2007).

References and Resources

Kabat-Zinn, John (2007). Mindfulness Stress Reduction And Healing. Google Tech Lecture, March 8.

Jayaram V, (2008). Right Mindfulness, Hindu Web Site

McCelland, David (N.D.) Achievement Motivation. Accel. 

Anderson, J. R. (1985). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. New York: Freeman, page 240-241.

Bray, C. W. (1948). Psychology and Military Proficiency. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Gay, I. R. (1973). Temporal Position of Reviews and its Effect on the Retention of Mathematical Rules. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64:171-182.

Johannsen, Murray (2014).  Operant Conditioning — A Practical Overview, Legacee.

Wikipedia, Sloth, N.D. 

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